While telepathy sounds like a superpower, reading someone’s mind is actually a skill that can be learned. From anticipating the needs of a client to knowing how to approach your boss, developing an inner intuition about what others value can help you get ahead.
“Perceptive people are always more successful in life and in work,” says Loren Miner, COO of the recruitment firm Decision Toolbox. “Top performers aren’t always the smartest people; they’re the ones who connect with others and have a higher EQ [emotional quotient].”
People send signals about their thoughts all the time, says Miner, but it can take practice to tune in. “When the messages you receive say that the person isn’t on the same page, these are clues that are telling you to step back and redirect,” she says. “It’s time to change the conversation or change your approach.”
Loren says there are five ways you can read someone’s mind–or at least take an educated guess–and build better business relationships:
Understanding someone’s generation can give insight about how he or she thinks. It’s a lens through which they view life, says Miner.
“Generational differences are fascinating,” she says. “Millennials often hide behind computers and speak their mind through Twitter and blogs. They don’t place value in face-to-face communication. Boomers, on the other hand, like to talk to someone in person.”
Miner says understanding someone’s generation will help you know the best way to approach them to develop a relationship. “If we’re closing a deal with a millennial, we know there is no need to fly out and schedule a roundtable,” she says. “They prefer a presentation via the Internet. For boomers, we spend the money and go out.”
Generations also value different things, says Miner. Millennials, for example, look for fast results. “When we talk to them, we talk about quick, proven processes,” she says. “Boomers are more conservative. When we talk to them, we move slower and talk about things like safety and risk.”
Another way to tell what someone is thinking is to look for their pain points, which involves asking the right questions. Miner says it’s important to establish a personal bond to get to know what they consider to be important.
“What triggers emotion for them? Where are their comfort zones?” she asks. “You have to have big ears and a small mouth.”
Miner suggests skipping pre-canned conversations and entering the relationship as a discussion. “Ask open-ended questions that allow the person to share their strengths and challenges,” says Miner. “Or share stories about what you’ve done for others. Nine times out of 10, people will agree that they have the same issue, which helps you better understand what they need.”
It can help to notice and observe individual qualities to determine who they are as a person and what’s important to them.
Miner says she’s very analytical, and she relates well when people methodically lay out their ideas: “I’ve taught my team that they have to come to me prepared to back up their initiative with numbers,” she says. “If you don’t, you’ve lost me.”
Look for clues into someone’s personality by paying attention to characteristics and verbiage. Someone who prefers to be dominant, for example, might have an overly firm handshake, says Miner. People who welcome humor will often insert sarcasm into a conversation. Use these clues to determine their values and their approach.
Nonverbal behavior is also important, and Miner suggests watching for body language clues. If someone leans in, they’re engaged. If they back up, look down, or turn away, they aren’t relating to what you’re saying.
Tone of voice can also provide clues. For example, if someone is answering you in monotone, they’re most likely unattached to your concept and not interested. If they look at you when you speak and move closer, they’re finding value in what you’re saying.
Finally, listen to what someone is saying as well as what they’re not saying. While this is harder when the conversation is done over the phone, Miner says an engaged or passionate voice is obvious. It’s also apparent when someone is frustrated.
“Their tone changes, or you’ll hear a sigh,” she says. “It’s important to develop a good ear that can listen for the subtle sounds.”
Anything critical or that involves emotion should never be communicated by email, says Miner. “Pick up the phone,” she says. “Emails are awful for conveying meaning behind the words. They can be a real hindrance to being perceptive.”